After suspending its season on March 11, the NBA has reached agreement on a plan to get back on the court and, barring major setbacks, crown a 2019/20 champion. Commissioner Adam Silver, faced with the impossible challenge of finding a solution that would keep owners and players happy in these challenging times, received the necessary buy-in for 22 teams to travel to Orlando and gear up for a provisional July 31 start date.
A brief tune-up period before we enter win-or-go-home territory
The intent is seemingly to allow the 22 teams – the current 16 playoff teams plus the New Orleans Pelicans, Portland Trail Blazers, San Antonio Spurs, Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference, and the Washington Wizards from the East – to play eight “regular season” games to determine final seeding and tune up for the postseason. The Memphis Grizzlies, the eighth seed in the West, can expect to be looking over their shoulder the rest of the way, especially with Zion Williamson leading the Pelicans’ charge.
This solution hits the sweet spot, appeasing the contending teams worried about a first round catastrophe if they were parachuted straight into a playoff series while also giving the rest of the pack plenty to play for. There is even reportedly the potential for a play-in tournament to decide the number eight seed in each conference.
The dreaded asterisk
The 2020 postseason will look like nothing we have ever seen, but all indications suggest that the playoffs will unfold in the same format – best-of-seven, four rounds – as usual. Home court advantage will be wiped out, though there could yet be some concessions made to the top seeds.
Still, none of that will prevent this year’s champions having an asterisk against their name in the eyes of many. Would this really count as Giannis Antetokounmpo’s first ring? Given what LeBron James went through for his three titles, could a 2020 championship really be added to his tally?
With so many of the typical postseason ingredients missing, and teams trying to snap back into game sharpness after more than four months away from competitive basketball, 2020 will always have some fine print in the NBA history books.
The countdown is on
Though there is plenty to be accomplished ahead of late July, the wheels are in motion and all parties deserve credit for finding a way to make the Orlando experiment happen. Players are already back practicing at team facilities, and will head to the Walt Disney World Resort early next month. Under that model, head coaches may not have much more than a week to get their players back in sync on the court before meaningful action begins.
While the Los Angeles Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks and LA Clippers remain the top three championship contenders with the bookmakers, there is uncertainty around which teams will react quickest in this unusual environment and how the absence of fans (and home court advantage) will impact playoff series. If you like one of the longer shot contenders, now might be the time to secure enticing odds.